Middle East

Syrians rally in support of rebels’ coastal offensive

A view is seen of damaged buildings in Aleppo's al-Kallaseh neighbourhood March 28, 2014. (REUTERS/Aref Haj Youssef)

BEIRUT: Friday demonstrations of support for a rebel offensive underway in Latakia province near the border with Turkey accompanied fierce fighting around Syria, as the regime and insurgents traded progress on the multiple fronts.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that during the rebels’ weeklong coastal offensive, the regime and its paramilitary allies lost 150 men, among them 13 officers, with hundreds wounded.

Anti-regime activists have posted a number of videos purporting to show the regime casualties at several sites of the fighting, along with the facilities seized.

In Thursday’s clashes, 10 rebels and jihadists were killed, said the Observatory, an activist group.

Government troops pounded the town of Kasab and half a dozen nearby locations with artillery and airstrikes Friday, but rebels staved off attempts to retake the territory, according to local activists.

They added that rebels had blocked several attempts by the regime to send reinforcements to fight the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and other Islamist militias.

The campaign is believed to have forced thousands of people from their homes, mainly in the direction of the city of Latakia, on the coast.

Demonstrations in rebel-held towns and villages in half a dozen provinces were staged under the slogan “support the call to arms for the coast.” In February, a Friday demo slogan had urged the opening of the front, the heartland of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s Alawite sect.

The rebels also seized parts of Foa, a Shiite village in Idlib province, according to the Observatory. It said two Nusra Front fighters and six Islamist militia fighters, including a local commander, were killed.

Elsewhere, regime airstrikes pummeled the village of Flita and other areas in the Qalamoun region bordering Lebanon, while shelling and airstrikes targeted the neighboring Wadi Barada region.

An anti-government activist told The Daily Star that rebels in Flita appeared to be on the verge of collapse after the regime’s seizure of the town of Yabroud earlier this month, backed by Hezbollah fighters.

The Observatory reported that both the regime and the rebels suffered casualties in fighting in rural Hama, as anti-government fighters sought to defend the strategic town of Morek on the international highway. It said rebels lost eight fighters during clashes in Dar al-Kabira, a village in Homs province.

In the Lairamoun region of the city of Aleppo, rebels killed a Republican Guard general along with five soldiers.

Clashes in the Damascus suburb of Daraya killed six rebels, while local activists accused the regime of targeting the capital’s suburbs with shelling accompanied by noxious gases.

In the east, the Al-Qaeda breakaway group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) fought separate battles against fellow jihadists and a Kurdish militia, the Observatory and activists said.

In Hassakeh province, at least six Kurds from the YPG militia and 15 fighters from ISIS and local allies have been killed in several days of fighting, while in rural Deir al-Zor, ISIS withdrew from the Jafra oil field and Conoco gas facility, after bloody clashes with the rival Nusra Front.

In the Aleppo town of Jarablus, YPG fighters attacked an ISIS base and caused an unspecified number of casualties, the Observatory said.

In the Aleppo town of al-Bab, ISIS publicly executed a man accused of rigging ISIS vehicles for explosion, it added.

A bomb blast in a mosque in the Damascus suburb of Yalda killed the imam, who had been negotiating a truce with the regime, activists said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 29, 2014, on page 1.




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